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With global inequality at record levels and the GDP to wage gap widening, neoliberal policies are facing a crisis of legitimacy. Mega trade agreements such as the TTIP and TISA have faced widespread opposition, including from the trade union movement.
The Asia Pacific region remains the centre of global economic growth, yet the vast majority of the benefits of that growth have gone to corporations and high net worth individuals. Inequality of both income and wealth in the region has grown rapidly. Despite promises of equitable or inclusive growth, trade and investment liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation are being aggressively pursued in the region, including through trade and investment treaties.
The impetus to revive the recently adopted (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for) Transpacific Partnership, or TPP 11 came from governments in the region and the ASEAN plus 6 countries intend to conclude negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) this year, an agreement that would impact on more than half the world’s population. Many bilateral agreements are also in the process of negotiation. If implemented, these agreements will have deep consequences for working people in the region.
The ‘new generation’ trade agreements represent a deepening of neoliberalism and threaten to further restrict the policy space required for governments to promote, respect, protect and fulfil labour rights, public services and goods essential for the realisation of human rights and to protect the environment.
Consequently, it is imperative that the international trade union movement increases its power to influence decision-making in relation to trade and investment agreements. The ability of the trade union movement to intervene in this arena has been uneven. Further work needs to be done to strengthen the capacity of trade unions in the Asia Pacific to coordinate and strengthen campaigns against trade agreements.
A coordination mechanism for trade union campaigning on trade across the region would strengthen the ability of affiliates to intervene on trade and investment issues within their countries, as well as open avenues for solidarity and for joint regional actions in the case of pluri-lateral and regional agreements such as RCEP or TPP. As trade and investment agreements cover a broad spectrum of issues that go far beyond the ambit of a single GUF, such a network will deepen analysis, advocacy as well as the collective process.
In this context, Public Services International (PSI) and Building and Woodworkers International (BWI) propose to hold a Asia Pacific Regional Strategy Meeting on Trade Justice, from 3-4 May 2018 in Singapore. The meeting will bring together key trade unions in the region with an interest in trade, Global Union Federations (GUFs), experts and civil society representatives. The meeting will explore the option of creating a regional union network on trade and use participatory methods to create a shared regional strategy.
The meeting is supported by FES.